Prep football: Rushing success key for Hunter

Prep football • Hunter's three running backs scored 22 touchdowns this season.
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The Hunter football team had high hopes of making a run at the 5A state title, but that potential run was halted by Fremont in the first round.

While the result was disappointing, the Wolverines have a lot to hang their hats on. They went undefeated in Region 2 and earned an outright region championship for the first time since 2003, when they won the state title.

"I have a great group of guys," Hunter coach Scott Henderson said. "There wasn't any doubt in my mind that they could play at a higher level."

Hunter marched to the top of the Region 2 mountain by assembling one of the most balanced, dynamic running attacks in the state. The team had seven players who rushed for more than 100 yards this the season, and eight players scored rushing touchdowns. That running brigade was led by a trio of senior backs.

Hyrum Purcell was Hunter's top dog in the backfield during the first half of the season. He averaged more than 100 yards per game in the Wolverines' four preseason games, but he went down with a season-ending knee injury in the region opener at West.

In Purcell's absence, Tre'von Johnson took over the starting spot, and he rose to the occasion when his number was called.

"Hyrum was a huge part of this team, but we wanted to show that we could win without him," Johnson said.

Johnson rushed for four touchdowns and more than 200 yards in his first game as the starter. He finished the season with more than 600 yards rushing and found the end zone 11 times.

Both of Hunter's two starters did a commendable job, but neither could have done it without the help of Izaiha Paonga-Lei. Paonga-Lei isn't the tallest guy in the world, and he wasn't the flashiest runner on the team, so he often went unnoticed. By so doing, he was a productive second option for the Wolverines.

Paonga-Lei averaged 90 yards per game and scored six touchdowns during the team's final three region games. He entered those games under the radar, but it didn't take long for focus to shift to him. He almost instantaneously drew attention away for Hunter's other backs.

The threesome combined for more than 1,200 yards and scored 22 touchdowns. Most critics wouldn't consider Purcell, Johnson or Paonga-Lei among the state's top backs, at least individually — but those critics would be hard-pressed to find one better when the three players' statistics are combined.

Stallions make run

If there was any doubt that Stansbury was a Class 3A title contender, the Stallions removed all doubt by trouncing Union, 60-26, in the first round of the state football playoffs. Quarterback Chase Christiansen ran for 101 yards and two touchdowns on nine carries.

Taylorsville transformation

There isn't another volleyball team around that reversed its fortunes like the Taylorsville Warriors. After starting the season 2-12, Taylorsville went on a nine-match winning streak to earn the Region 2 title and the top seed entering the state tournament. Maddie Gibson was the region's best setter in the regular season.